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ASU Indian Legal Program Thrives Under Patty Ferguson-Bohnee Leadership

ASU Indian Legal Program Thrives Under Patty Ferguson-Bohnee Leadership

Patty Ferguson-BohneeThe Indian Legal Program (ILP) at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is going strong in its 28th year and is one of the most respected Indian law programs in the nation.

With the highest concentration of Native American students and Indian law students in the nation, the faculty members are leading scholars in their fields, producing scholarly research and publications, as well as community outreach and public service.

It’s no surprise that the law school tapped Patty Ferguson-Bohnee to lead the ILP efforts. Celebrating her fifth anniversary as the program’s faculty director, the ILP has seen tremendous support from donors and the community. Under Ferguson-Bohnee's leadership, the program has five named endowments, secured important community partnerships – including a national partnership with the Native American Rights Fund to support law clerks, and a renewed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Navajo Nation to encourage Navajo students to attend ASU Law. 

“Patty is very active in a number of local and national organizations and works tirelessly on important issues that impact Indian Country,” said Kate Rosier, executive director of the ILP. “Because of her involvement, Patty has brought many projects back to ASU Law so ILP students can participate.”

An example is the school-to-prison pipeline trend. Ferguson-Bohnee worked on this issue with the American Bar Association and volunteered to host a conference on how the school-to-prison pipeline affects Indian Country. By bringing the event to ASU Law she was able to highlight how tribes were dealing with this problem and keep students up to date on tribal issues.

Additionally, Ferguson-Bohnee championed the Native American Pipeline to Law Initiative that encourages Native Americans to enter the law profession. The 2015 National Native American Bar Association study of Native Americans in the legal field, concluded that Native American law student population is lower than the rate of Native American in the overall U.S. population. In 2015, there were 1.3 million U.S. attorneys compared to 2,640 Native American attorneys.

For Ferguson-Bohnee that means those entering the legal profession will greatly impact their communities. “Many Native Americans come from impoverished communities, we need to be responsive to economic disparities. We have a responsibility to provide guidance because they are definitely going to be tomorrow’s leaders.” 

The initiative is sponsored by the ILP at ASU and the Indigenous Law Program at Michigan State University College of Law with the support of other organizations and colleges across the nation including The Princeton Review Foundation, Berkeley School of Law, and American Indian Law Center, Inc.

Ferguson-Bohnee’s passion projects don’t stop there. She started Arizona Native Vote Election Protection Project to help American Indians navigate problems such as intimidation on Election Day. The project was in response to a 2004 Arizona voter ID law that didn’t take into account the negative effects on Native Americans and would often lead to canceled votes, confusion, and marginalization.

“I’m committed to Indian Country and it is our responsibility to help protect and develop the rights of tribal communities. It’s our job to not only train future lawyers but to also teach them to be advocates on behalf of their clients,” Ferguson-Bohnee emphasized.  

Led by the Indian Legal Clinic at ASU Law in partnership with the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Native American Bar Association of Arizona, the Native Vote project was designed to be a resource to Arizona’s tribal communities and the tribal members in order to ensure access to the polls and to prevent voter disenfranchisement.